Tag Archives: activism

Being an ally

In the wake of the horrific events at Pulse in Orlando this weekend, I’ve been trying to be thoughtful about ways to be a good ally to my LGBTQI friends. The list below is compiled from several lists I’ve read as well as ideas from friends. This list is ordered in a way that makes sense to me, but I think different actions and priorities will make sense and work better for different people. In other words, this isn’t a directive, but it might be helpful–it’s been helpful to me in thinking through this.

  1. Shut up and listen. I am not the victim here; it is not my time to talk. I will try to be an ally without taking rhetorical space from my LGBTQI friends. Many who are hurting right now need someone to hear them.
  2. Speak up when appropriate. If I witness someone doing something homophobic or sexist or otherwise mean/inappropriate, I have an obligation to say that this behavior is not okay with me. It contributes to a culture where things like Orlando happen.
  3. Pay attention to affiliations. Religious, political, commercial, whatever. I will be paying close attention to the rhetoric and actions of any church I attend and any politician I am thinking of voting for, and I will not support people or institutions who engage in hate.
  4. Stay focused on the real issues and work to have hard conversations. A friend recently posted this WSJ project that juxtaposes items from “liberal” and “conservative” Facebook feeds to demonstrate how social media can function as an echo chamber that tells users what they want to hear. I will, instead, seek information from many perspectives and try to engage people with a diversity of opinions. (Check it out: http://graphics.wsj.com/blue-feed-red-feed/)
  5. Respond to physical needs as well as emotional ones. If you see a friend suffering, check in to make sure they’re okay. Take them out for lunch, or make a dinner to drop off. Here’s a practical one: Give blood. Since Red Cross policies prevent many queer men from giving blood, this is a need that feels (and is) especially real right now.

Pregnancy and Civil Rights

Civil rights are those basic rights needed in order to participate in the political life of a civil society. In the U.S., these rights are set out in the Constitution and its Amendments. In this country, most people are familiar with the term “civil rights” because of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which was centered on rights for black Americans. Unfortunately, civil rights are still not guaranteed for all people in this country. Pregnant women are particularly victimized.

The New York Times published an Op-Ed on pregnancy and civil rights this weekend. It makes some excellent points. Most important among them: The authors have identified 793 cases in which a pregnant woman was denied her physical liberty. This is, I hope, shocking enough for most readers. But here’s the really incredible part. The scope of this study (part of which was published as a peer-reviewed article last year) includes cases back to 1973 (when Roe v. Wade came down). But 380 of those cases–48% of them!–happened since 2005. In other words, the United States is increasingly, and at a truly alarming rate, denying basic civil rights to pregnant women.

This shouldn’t be a surprise in the wake of an election in which multiple embryonic and fetal personhood measures were on statewide ballots. But, somehow, it’s still getting very little attention. Some of the cases Paltrow and Flavin (the authors of the Op-Ed mentioned above) raise are clearly intended to remedy this:

  • A woman arrested on murder charges for the “crime” of having a miscarriage. (Louisiana)
  • A woman taken prisoner and forced to undergo a Cesarean, for the “crime” of having a miscarriage. (Florida)

  • A woman forced by a judge to undergo an early Cesarean that ultimately killed her and the 26-week fetus she was carrying. (Washington DC)

These are sensational cases where the actions of the state upon a particular woman are pretty clearly wrong, regardless of political leaning. I understand Paltrow and Flavin’s rationale for focusing on these cases–they’re persuasive, and they focus on physical liberty. These authors had to limit their scope somehow; this is not a critique of them or their work. However, I’m nervous about this message because it leaves a lot of things out of the conversation. It leaves a full discussion of the civil rights of pregnant women unsaid. Physical liberty is important, yes. But pregnant women–like other human beings–also have a right to basic safety. They have a right to life, liberty, privacy, protection from discrimination, freedom of thought, freedom of expression.

And there are a lot more than 793 women since 1973 who’ve had their civil rights infringed–trampled!–if we consider the full spectrum of rights that we offer to other humans. Somebody should be talking about this.

Conversation dominance and gender

When I was teaching my internship course on feminisms and technical rhetorics, I asked my supervisor to come watch a class meeting. I don’t remember now if I asked him to to do this or if he was just that savvy, but he kept track of how much discussion time was spent with males talking and how much time was spent with females talking. He also noted how often I called on students of each sex. Since I’m a feminist teacher and I was teaching about feminism, I was pretty certain the women talked the most and that I called on women more often.

Neither was true.

The discrepancy was significant. I definitely called on men more often AND those men ultimately spent more time talking. Given that this was in a feminist-led classroom, on the topic of feminism, AND in a class where there were significantly more women than men, I found this pretty astonishing. After that incident, I realized that my own sense of how rhetorical space was divided is deeply influenced by a culture that tells us men should speak and women should listen. The only way to be sure I was calling on female and male students equally was to actually keep a tally sheet.

So, I was both pleased (not to be alone) and saddened (that this is so widespread) to discover this recent post on Gender, Conversation Dominance, and Listener Bias. It has some really awesome links/references, and the author offers some great advice for how to avoid gender-based conversation dominance. I’m copying and pasting those below, but you should read the whole post here: http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/2014/07/stop-interrupting-me-gender.html?m=1

1) Examine your implicit biases; Stop interrupting women and girls. Parents and teachers (both males and females) interrupt girls twice as often as boys. This teaches girls that their words and thoughts are not as important or valued.  If you don’t believe you are doing this in your classroombe scientific about ithave someone come in and observe you or tape your classroom. The most powerful illustration of the effects of gender on perceptions of importance, competence and speech are the experiences of people who undergo sex changes. Scientist Ben Barres wrote publicly about his female-to-male transition experience. After transitioning, he gave a well-received scientific speech and overheard a member of the audience explain that “his work is much better than his sister’s,” referring to when he was Barbara Barres. Notably, he concluded that one of the major benefits of being male was that he could now “even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.”
2) Stop telling girls to be “little ladies” and “good girls” who help with chores, wait their turns, do not display pride, express anger or be demanding.  Politeness and taking turns, two highly-ranked lessons we teach girls in particular, are not virtues in the public sphere. Conversely, nip American male “boys will be boys” entitlements in the bud by holding boys and girls to the same standards of self-regulation as children.
3) Stop promoting the idea that masculinized expression is superior and that women have to emulate it to be successful. The expectation that women be gender bi-lingual, or code switch, is a function of being part of a muted group. The kind of confidence that many people advocate just means a woman has to work very hard to overcome sexist gender incongruities in order to succeed.  Telling women to operate more like men in the public sphere: change their speech, change their hair, change their clothes and change their style of expression will only amplify androcentric norms. If we want to close the confidence gap, of course it helps to talk to women about self-doubt, but really closing this gap, as with all the otherspay, safety, rightsrequires structural changes in every institution within which we live.
4) Create spaces for those who have trouble being heard or breaking into conversations.  Structure meetings so that everyone is given a chance to speak, and limit durations so that everyone gets a fair representation in the meeting.  If you notice a member of your team is not participating or not being heard, discuss the issue with them privately and try to come up with a solution that feels comfortable to this person.
5) When you notice that someone is interrupting or talking over someone else, say “Excuse me, XXX was speaking, please let him/her finish before you continue your thought.”  This is especially important if you are in a more powerful position (because of status, age, race, gender, or seniority) and the person being interrupted is in a less powerful position.
6) When you notice someone repeating an idea that you had already brought up say: “I am glad that XXX agrees with my previous suggestion … ” If you notice this happening to someone else, try to find a way to attribute the idea to the original speaker: “XXX said that 10 minutes ago!” may not be as effective as something like, “Yes, as XXX previously suggested … “
7) Create classroom and workplace environments which are conscious of these gender dynamics and put in place methods which help you overcome the unconscious biases (we all have) towards allowing white men to disproportionately dominate the discussion.



On Anti-feminism

The basic concept for my dissertation came out of seeing young women (often students in classes I was teaching) say, “I’m not a feminist, but …” and then say something that totally seems like feminism to me. (“I’m not a feminist, but I believe in equality.” “I’m not a feminist, but the gender-wage gap makes me angry.” “I’m not a feminist, but I get tired of female politicians being held to a different standard.”) I created apparent feminism both because I wanted to put a face on feminisms for them and because I wanted them to know that they don’t have to self-identify as feminist for me to take them seriously and want to work with them.

On the first day of a women’s and gender studies class I taught a few summers ago, I wore a hot pink pencil skirt. On the second day, I wore dark jeans and chucks, and I asked the students if they’d noticed what I wore yesterday. Every single one of them had. By the end of the class, one student said that she almost dropped the class that first day because my outfit made it seem to her like I didn’t know what feminism was. For that student, at least, I managed to broaden the idea of what a feminist can look like. But I still wonder what cultural signals are telling people that a feminist can only be one thing–that a feminist can’t wear a pink skirt. Defining feminism so narrowly is exactly the opposite of its main message, which is that people can be and do whatever they want regardless of sex.

I’ve seen an increasing number of news stories, blog posts, and online conversations lately about “anti-feminism.” I’ve read a number of them, and the best I can understand is that the current “anti-feminism” movement is about hating anyone who identifies as feminist. This doesn’t make sense to me because feminists are extremely diverse; the only real organizing principles of feminism are a drive for a equality among all people (which seems like a pretty obviously Good thing) and an implicit assumption that sexual equality has not yet been achieved on a systematic scale (which is supported by overwhelming quantifiable data). But, apparent feminism is also about listening, so right now I’m trying to interpret these statements as the beginnings of worthwhile political conversations. In the meantime, I’ll just keep reminding people that “feminist” can mean a lot of things–and our personal interpretations of the word “feminist” are quite telling.


#YesAllWomen / Dude It’s You

A re-post of an article with some thought-provoking statements about the recent misogynist killing spree that I think resonate beyond this single situation … read the whole thing here. Selected quotes are below:

“To dismiss him as crazy is to ignore the obvious:  he chose to attack women.”

“[T]he only way I have a right to approach women is the same way I approach men:  as people and as individuals who like what they like and want what they want.”

“I’m saying the culture sucks and we need to change it.”

“Our hypermasculine culture sets unrealistic expectations and encourages men to see women as potential sex partners instead of as neighbors, co-workers, and friends.  All too often it is deadly for women and it’s no friend of the vast majority of men.”